Monday, March 05, 2007

Monday in the 2nd Week of Lent
We’re in It Together

Readings: Daniel 9:4b-10; Psalm 79:8, 9, 11 and 13; Luke 6:36-38

It’s useful to begin our meditation by recalling the opening prayer for today. In it we asked God the Father to teach us to find new life through penance. This is an important petition to make, especially as we continue our Lenten discipline. It is important because, as we know so well, not all penance leads to new life. Not all penance leads us into a deeper relationship of love with God and with others. Quite to the contrary, it is possible to do penance, and any other spiritual exercise for that matter, in such a way that we begin to take pride in our own efforts, to think of ourselves as being somehow better than the common person, and to even become judgmental and condemnatory of others. It is possible to do penance in a way that leads to death.

Isn’t this what the Lord is trying to warn us against in the gospel today? Be compassionate… do not judge… do not condemn… grant pardon…

How, we may wonder, do we do this? How do we avoid the great risk that is faced especially by the pious? We need a special grace from God, the same grace that we find operating in the first reading. Perhaps what one finds most striking in Daniel’s confession of guilt – which he makes after having put himself through various penitential practices – is the number of times the word we is used. We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly… Daniel’s is not just a confession of his own personal sin. Rather, Daniel makes a general confession of the sins of his whole nation. Pious and holy though he may be, Daniel finds himself implicated in the sins of his people. Rather than making him judgmental, Daniel’s prayer and penance helps him receive the grace to see how the sins of others are also his sins. And it is out of this sense of corporate sinfulness that Daniel cries out to God for forgiveness and mercy.

Isn’t this the same grace that we need especially as we continue to make our way through Lent? For example, although I may not be a murderer like that One-Eyed Dragon who was arrested and tried not so long ago, don’t I engage, from time to time, in character assassination? Even though I may not embezzle money like that big-time lawyer who fled the country, am I not part of a global economy that often tends to keep the poor and destitute firmly in their state of oppression, even as it makes the rich ever richer? Isn’t this the whole reason for the slew of relief measures that our latest national budget is trying to put into place? And even though I may not visit those massage parlours that offer extra services, don't I have the tendency to disregard the dignity of others by making use of them, every so often, for my own selfish purposes?

It is this consciousness of being in it together, off being in the same sinking ship of sinfulness, that we need to ask for even as we continue the penitential practices of Lent. For it is especially when we receive this grace that, like Daniel, we can experience the compassion and the mercy of the God who responds to sin not so much with judgment as with a powerfully compassionate act of mercy. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Through our penitential practice, how is God teaching us the way that leads to life?

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